Nature

Do you also miss spending time surrounded by trees? When last were you able to go on a hike without strange constraints? How calming are sunset missions?

We never seem to realize how intrinsically connected we are to nature. It’s marvelous how the better we treat our own health, the better it usually is for the environment.

This post will be a showcase of some of my time spent outdoors, focusing on the most beautiful aspects of nature.

I want to emphasize how important it is to spend more time surrounded by trees and the natural world, as it subconsciously reminds us of how temporary our life truly is.

This may not be entirely feasible right now, but try to watch the sunrise or sunset if you can. Focus on the plants in your garden. Stare out the window and ponder over the clouds. Immerse yourself in the present moment.

“The oak tree or the eagle would be bemused by such a question. “What time?” they would ask. “Well, of course, it’s now. The time is now. What else is there?”

― Eckhart Tolle

Ants, birds, bees and trees all focus on the task at hand. To grow and thrive, regardless of the circumstances. To adapt to the unexpected, to embrace change and chaos. We too should follow our nature and strive to be the best we possibly can – whatever that means to us.

I’ll show some pics from Kirstenbosch, food places, some insects and other random places. I hope this brings you as much joy as brought me.

Kirstenbosch

Foodie

Random places

Bugz

“So you where born to feel
“nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?”

-Marcus Aurelius

Can you spot the bee?

Embrace uncertainty.

We’re absolutely blessed. When you spend time admiring nature and what God has created, it brings a sense of peace to your soul. You understand that things weren’t created randomly. We’re all here for a purpose. Let’s make the most of it.

“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”

Dolphins enjoying the sunrise

Why is Ramadan so important?

Have you ever wondered why Ramadan was such an important aspect of Islam? This post will focus on shedding some light to those who are curious about this blessed month. It will also serve as a reminder to those of you who are familiar with Islamic knowledge.

I’ll briefly discuss the 5 pillars of Islam, the revelation of the Quran, the reason why Muslims fast, how this month coincides with a crisis and why we try our best to revive our spirituality.

[This is based on my understanding and the research that I have done. Please consult literature or a scholar for more detailed and authentic interpretations.]

Ramadan is the 4th Pillar of Islam

Islam is constructed on the 5 pillars shown below. Each have a significant contribution to one’s faith and need to be consistently adhered to. The 1st pillar is the Shahadah, which is professing that there’s ‘No God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger’. It’s considered the foundation of Islam, because everything builds upon that testimony.

The 2nd pillar is Salaah (prayer), which is expected to be performed 5 times a day. This consistency in prayer has always been remarkable to me, as it truly keeps the 1st pillar in place and reminds me of my true purpose in life. It forms a beautiful structure to the day and allows us to frequently remember God.

The 3rd pillar is Zakaat, which is a form of giving charity. This needs to be performed annually, where we’re expected to give 2.5% of our monetary wealth to those who are less fortunate (There are more specifications to this, I’m merely giving an overview). This is such a beautiful pillar because it indicates that giving to others and being considerate is part of the religion.

The 4th pillar will be my focus today; fasting the month of Ramadan. It is the 9th month of the Hijri calendar, where we’re expected to abstain from food and drink for 29 or 30 days every year (depending on the sighting of the new moon). There’s more to it than just the abstinence of food and drink however, which I’ll also discuss.

The final pillar is Hajj; the pilgrimage to Makkah. There are roughly 2 million pilgrims on average who embark on this journey every year. This year will be the first time in history where the pilgrimage would be extremely restricted, possibly even cancelled.

The Revelation of the Quran

One of the most interesting aspects of Ramadan is that it’s the month in which the Quran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He was 40 years old when he was blessed with prophet-hood and when the angel Jibreel first revealed to him the Holy text sent by Allah. It was a constant stream of verses that spanned 23 years, which started around the year 609 CE.

The Quran contains timeless wisdom and is memorized by Muslims all over the world. It is what we recite during prayer and it has remain unscathed since it was revealed (Nothing has been edited). It’s as relevant to us today as it was when it was sent over 1400 years ago.

There’s a lot of emphasis for us to recite the Quran during Ramadan. It’s the one time of the year where everyone is a lot more focused and dedicated to their spirituality, making it a lot easier and enjoyable. Rewards for performing good deeds are multiplied by over 10 fold, which is motivating and encouraging.

Allah’s Prophet said, “Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter). So, the person observing fasting should avoid sexual relation with his wife and should not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, ‘I am fasting.”

Why do Muslims fast during this month?

You may have encountered the buzzword ‘Intermittent fasting’ over the past few years. I’m proud to say that Muslims have been doing that consistently over the past 1400 years. Let’s discuss what fasting in Islam entails, whilst looking at the scientific benefits behind it.

The infographic above shows a number of health benefits associated with fasting. From an Islamic point of view however, there’s much more to it than that. The fasting starts at the Fajr prayer and ends at the Maghrib prayer. Essentially from dawn till dusk.

The fasting includes abstaining from food and drink, keeping the stimulation of senses to a minimum and staying away from sexual activity. It’s a time to practice self-control, not to indulge in the usual luxuries of life and to focus on your blessings.

The reason behind fasting is for us to become empathetic with those who are less fortunate than us. Many people live without sufficient food or water their entire lives. For those of us who are blessed with a variety of food choices every day, it gives us time to reflect on that and understand how circumstances are for others.

We often complain about the most trivial aspects of our luxurious lives, without realizing that others would be extremely grateful for a mere fraction of what we have.

Spiritual rejuvenation

We’re without a doubt, living through one of the most unique Ramadans in history. It’s no coincidence that this blessed month coincides with a global pandemic. People have the opportunity to focus more on their spirituality, to reflect, to grow and to become compassionate.

The lock down restrictions have forced us to gain a few realizations. We need to understand that everything happens for a reason. Whether you see it as a blessing or a curse, entirely depends on your perception.

I say this again and again, but it’s an important reminder. Life is short and we are all temporary. Look at how quickly time is passing. Before you know it, your time will be up and you’ll spend the rest of your days in the grave (until Resurrection). Keep that in mind often. It’s not something to be bleak about, it’s part of the circle of life.

You should try and feel motivated by how fleeting this all is. You’re not here for nothing. This isn’t a coincidence. It’s all part of the plan.

The reason I wrote this post was to remind myself of why I focus so much during Ramadan. I also hope to have inspired you in some way, or to have helped you understand it a little better. I really enjoyed writing about this, if you’d like me to discuss the 4 other pillars of Islam, please let me know!

I hope the rest of your month and days ahead are blessed InshaAllah. Stay strong, stay thankful, stay present. Everything happens for a reason, don’t forget that. The more struggle you have to endure, the more you are rewarded. Alhamdulillah for everything.

The Paradox of Choice

How often do you feel like there are too many options to choose from? Couldn’t figure out what to watch on Netflix? Got stuck deciding what outfit to wear? Couldn’t pick a restaurant to go out to with your friends? Struggled to pick a meal once you were at that restaurant?

We’re living in an age where we have more choices for pretty much everything than ever before. We tend to think that our freedom lies in having a variety of choices, but there’s a threshold before those choices become taxing.

I’d like to use this post to discuss a very interesting phenomenon; the paradox of choice. This post will serve as a summary for the book written by Barry Shwartz, but I’ll talk about other relevant ideas too.

I’ll also talk about a concept called decision fatigue, how unlimited choices affect us psychologically, the contribution of capitalism and how to move forward.

Why more is less

As previously mentioned, it seems like having too many options is paralyzing us, instead of liberating us. We don’t realize how when comparing so many choices, it often leaves us with a sense of regret.

I should’ve ordered the usual. We should’ve chosen the first hotel. We should’ve watched the other movie. I should’ve joined the other course.

“Instead of increasing our sense of well-being, an abundance of choice is increasing our levels of anxiety, depression, and wasted time. “

onegreenplanet.org

According to Barry Shwartz, good decisions usually involve 6 key aspects. As you’ll notice, the more options that are available to us, the more effort will be required to make a sound decision. Here are the 6 steps:

  1. Identify your goal or goals
  2. Evaluate their importance
  3. Array the options to achieve them
  4. Evaluate how likely each option is to meet your goals
  5. Pick the best options
  6. Modify your goals based on the outcome

You can see from the list above, if firstly, you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to have trouble making a decision. Understanding how important your goal is to you also plays an important role, because it allows you to sort through the options more effectively.

“Nobody makes plans because something better might turn up, and the result is that nobody every does anything.”

Let’s see how trying to sift through several options affects our ability to further make decisions.

Decision fatigue

You have a certain capacity for the amount of good decisions you can make in a single day. Essentially, your willpower diminishes and the quality of your decisions decrease based on the number of decisions that you make.

The graph below shows what I mean by that. It clearly illustrates that the quality of your decisions are higher, when you make less decisions. Why is understanding this useful? Because it allows us to focus on making our decisions earlier and on what matters.

bluejeanwellness.com

Let’s think about the first hour of your typical day and how many decisions you make before leaving the house. Okay in this case we’re not leaving the house anymore, but until you start being ‘productive’ at home.

You’d usually start on auto-pilot; snoozing, then brushing your teeth, making the bed, stretching a little, maybe even scrolling through your phone (terrible idea btw).

Then comes breakfast. What do I eat? What should I drink? What should I prepare for lunch later? Then you need to get dressed. What should I wear? When should I shower? Should I exercise now or later? Then you have to prepare to do work. Which assignment should I start with? Should I respond to these emails now? Why won’t these people leave me alone?

You get my point. Before we can even start making any important decisions, we’ve already exhausted a handful of our will-power’s supply.

This essentially means that we should make the most important decisions early in the morning. Start planning for your daily activities in advance. Choose your breakfast and your outfit the day before.

Reduce the amount of decisions you need to make per day and you’ll clear up a lot of cognitive space.

The psychology of unlimited choices

When you make a decision that doesn’t turn out well and then find better alternatives, how does usually make you feel?

Regretful.

How does regret play a role in our decision making? There are two main forms of regret, namely: post-decision and anticipation.

When things don’t go well after a decision is made, that’s called post-decision regret. When we anticipate that things aren’t going to go well before even making a decision, it often leaves us feeling anticipatory regret.

Having an enormous amount of choices leads to constantly evaluating “What if”. That is called counterfactual thinking. When we ponder over scenarios that could’ve been. That often leads us to appreciating what we have less and therefore, we derive less satisfaction from our decisions.

Being aware of these psychological consequences is actually a great way for us to overcome the paralysis of over-stimulation. We can identify more clearly our objectives before making a decision, we can learn to accept “good enough” and learn to focus on the few options that meet our standards.

“What looks attractive in prospect, doesn’t always look so good in practice.”

We need to decide when choices really matter and focus our energy there. We tend to believe that the choices we make are a reflection of who we are, so we spend more time than we realize evaluating them.

Capitalism

The root of all evil. I’m kidding haha. I won’t dive too deeply into this, just needed to share some of my thoughts. It seems that the ever increasing number of choices for everything, is rooted in modern consumerism.

Capitalism has bred this kind of thinking in several ways. By making people believe that their sense of value is determined by their net worth. By creating a culture of social comparison, where everyone’s ego is on the line. By creating a ‘satisfaction treadmill’, where we continuously chase the latest products and trends, thinking that we’ll get satisfaction from it.

We might not be able to change the way the system runs on our own, but we can learn to better maneuver through it. We can become aware of how it influences us and our ability to make decisions.

Better awareness -> Better choices -> Better results.

How do we move forward with all this?

Great question. Here some of the points the author mentions that are imperative for us to remain satisfied with our decisions.

  1. Choose when to choose
  2. Be a chooser not a picker
  3. Make your decisions non-reversible
  4. Focus on your blessings and be grateful
  5. Regret less through acceptance
  6. Anticipate adaptation
  7. Control expectations
  8. Curtail social comparison
  9. Learn to embrace constraints

We need to realize that we often try to make decisions based on the objective experience it will provide. However, what’s actually important to us, is often the subjective experience. How we feel about it.

Being a chooser entails understanding what is important to you and how that aligns with your values. Being a picker means just ‘going with the flow’ and picking anything. By making your decisions non-reversible, you’d spend less time ruminating over the other choices. Having an “attitude of gratitude” is pivotal to appreciation and also helps with overcoming regret.

We’re hyper-adaptive beings. We need to keep in mind that everything that was once novel, will become ordinary and comfortable after a while. We need to manage our expectations more realistically in order to avoid disappointment.

Curtailing social comparison is essentially not worrying about everyone else. You’re living your own life, based on your circumstances and your life goals. Don’t worry about impressing other people or missing out based on their experiences. Finally, embrace constraints. Manage your options by limiting them whilst maintaining your standards.

“Choice within constrains, freedom within limits, is what allows us to imagine a host of marvelous possibilities.”